Teresa Preker, Konspiracyjna
Rada Pomocy Żydom w Warszawie 1942-1945 [Underground
Relief Council for Jews in Warsaw 1942-1945]
Three chapters translated into
Copyright Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation 2002-2003
(transferred from the Batory Foundation in Warsaw)
About the Author
Teresa Preker, the author
of the book on ZEGOTA and other texts, also published
in English (among others, in: Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust,
New York-London 1980, The Jews in Poland, Basic Blackwell,
1986, My Brother's Keeper, Routledge, 1990, Polin, article
The Jewish Underground and the Polish Underground, London
1996), was a historian specializing in Polish-Jewish
relations. Her publication is devoted to the Underground
Relief Council for Jews, the only body of this kind
in occupied Europe. Established in September 1942, it
grouped Poles and Jews from different underground groups
holding diverse political views and representing various
sections of society. Teresa Preker's book is the only
comprehensive and in-depth monographic study of this
remarkable body and its activities in Nazi-occupied
Poland. We feel that the book should be made available
in English, believing it would go at least some way
toward resolving the sensitive problems that continue
to arise in public discussion. The author has written
a new version of the introductory chapter.
Teresa Preker died on May 19, 1998. Commemorative articles
and obituaries published by individuals and institutions
who had known and worked with Teresa Preker (among others,
Jewish Historical Institute Association, The Association
of Jewish War Veterans and Victims of Prosecutions during
World War II, Social and Cultural Association of Jews
in Poland, Association of Hidden Children of Holocaust
in Poland) testify to the profound respect she enjoyed
personally and as a scholar.
I. POLES AND JEWS IN INDEPENDENT AND OCCUPIED POLAND
Polish-Jewish Relations Before
"We are helpless vis-a-vis
German criminals. We cannot defend ourselves and no-one
in Poland is in a position to defend us. Poland's underground
authorities can save some of us but not the multitude.
[...] The fate of 3 million Polish Jews is sealed."
These words give a precise outline of the situation
of Jews in occupied Poland. This is what in October
1942, Leon Feiner, distinguished representative of Bund
and of the Presidium of the Relief Council for Jews,
told Jan Karski, courier of the AK Home Army and of
the representation of the government-in-exile (Delegatura),
before his departure for London. One could hide hundreds,
even thousands of Jews wanted by the Nazis, but no more
There were many objective and subjective reasons, often
bound up with the past, why it was so difficult for
Poles to hide Jews, to come to their help at the risk
of Poles' own life. "Jewish life and the place
of Jews in Polish society was rather different from
what it was in Western Europe. From the French Revolution
onward, Jews throughout Western Europe pressed for equal
rights as individuals and confined expressions of their
Jewishness to the religious sphere. In contrast, most
Jews in independent Poland between the wars insisted
on their recognition as a people, with the rights of
a national minority. The Jews wanted to be recognized
as a community - part of and apart from other elements
in Polish society," Israel Gutman explains.
This Jewish position was influenced
by their impressive number. By making up as much as
nearly 10 per cent of the country's population, they
clustered primarily in cities where they constituted
an average of about 35 per cent (but sometimes as much
as 80 per cent) of the residents.
Being good organizers, in circumstances
that were - despite all hurdles - favourable, they set
up a network of their own schools of every level, with
Yiddish or Hebrew as the language of instruction. As
for many of them Yiddish was the language they spoke
at home, a considerable number of Jews spoke bad Polish,
with a specific accent, while a lot of, particularly
the older, people did not speak Polish at all. That
made the Polish-Jewish cohabitation very difficult because,
as the French historian Marc Bloch says, a difference
of language strengthens the feeling of not belonging
to the same environment, which feeling itself is a source
Work together did not quench
that feeling. Jews were suffering a "psychosis
of self-reliance [...] They did not take kindly to blue-collar
workers among themselves." Fifty-seven point seven
per cent of the Jewish population were self-employed
people who did not hire any workers, while 6.7 per cent
did hire hands (mostly other Jews to work in small retail
or artisan shops). As Jews formed large communities,
a large proportion of those shops' customers were Jews,
too. On the other hand, because of the Jewish celebration
of Saturday, which was a workday at that time, bigger
Polish but also Jewish businesses were unwilling to
Jews showed enterprise in other
areas as well: they opened their own orphanages, hospitals
and very dynamic self-help groups, they founded their
own trade unions, published numerous papers, had their
own theatres, bands, choirs and sports clubs. The elite
of Polish Jews distinguished themselves by the high
level of their culture, literary output and scientific
life. They formed a centre important to the whole of
The overwhelming majority of
Jews were very much devoted to their ancient religion
and tradition. All-powerful dictates of religion and
tradition ruled their life and behaviour. More often
than not this applied to the traditional garb as well.
Of late, however, political ideas spread by activists
and their press began to motivate increasingly wide
circles of the Jewish youth.
The strong sense of national
and religious ties caused that Jews bore a grudge against
those among themselves who tried to go native. As a
rule, their split from the Jewish community was treated
The activities of Jewish political
parties were obviously concentrated on the problems
of their own national group. Their representatives -
members of Zionist groups and of the Orthodox-Conservative
Agudas Isroel - in the Polish parliament, too, usually
confined themselves to supporting the interests of their
own national minority.
A vast majority of Jewish political
parties had no contact with Polish parties whatsoever.
Certain Leftist Zionist groups and Bund, who sometimes
undertook joint actions with the Polish Socialist Party,
were the only exceptions. On the other hand, Jewish
Communists did not form a group of their own but belonged
to the Communist Party of Poland. They were quite largely
represented in various Party organizations, Party leadership
Their rich social and political
life indicated the perseverance of the Jews in the effort
to preserve their national identity, their vigour and
activeness. Yet, Poles usually assessed the activities
of the Jews negatively. Jews were charged with building
"[u]n Estat dans l'Estat", of giving priority
to the interests of their own group and of The Diaspora
over those of Poland. That was a serious charge in the
situation where Poles were still in a state of euphoria
after they recovered their own statehood after 125 years
of partitions. Poles had their reservations about Polish
Jews laying claims to much greater rights in this country
than in Western Europe. Rich Jewish financiers were
suspected of conspiring with international Jewish capital,
and the Jewish poor - of plotting a Soviet-like revolution
(hence the common term "Jewish-communism").
All this plus the xenophobia
of the Poles produced the situation where the attitude
towards Jews was generally hostile. Jews had more enemies
than friends in Poland. National Christian parties,
particularly the National Party and two extremist factions
derived from the ONR National Radical Camp, took advantage
of such state of Polish minds. Those nationalist parties
introduced "fight against Jewry" into their
programmes and propagated their views widely. They were
out for brawls at universities, demanding the reduction
of the Jewish enrolment to 10 per cent or to their actual
percentage of the country's population, i.e. the introduction
of the so-called numerus clausus (the percentage of
the Jews at Polish universities at the time was much
higher, especially in the faculties of law and medicine).
The nationalists demanded separate desks for Jewish
students, made it difficult for them to take exams,
and often struck at them. Initially, university authorities
(and many professors) put a sharp resistance to such
demands, later however, some of them yielded to the
nationalist terror and did impose the numerus clausus.
Small towns were another area
of nationalist activities. Nationalists persuaded residents
that Jews were taking away a chance of good earnings
from them, particularly in trade, that Jews were cheating
and exploiting them. Nationalists also incited the gentile
population to boycott and even destroy Jewish shops.
They often achieved their purpose: Jews were indeed
attacked in the street, their houses were broken into
and their property demolished. Jewish self-defence (especially
with the use of arms) led to bloodshed (the most notorious
at Przytyk in 1936 during which one Pole and two Jews
died). It is estimated that during the greatest wave
of anti-Jewish events, in the years 1935--1937, about
2,000 Jews were beaten and wounded while 14 were killed.
More than ten Poles died on those occasions.
The two ONR factions, although
relatively small and officially dissolved by the government,
were very noisy and demagogic. They wanted to provoke
Jews to emigrate in great numbers. Nonetheless, neither
they nor any other party insisted on the exile of Jews.
The attitude of other Polish
political parties was not so remarkably hostile towards
Jews, all the same many members of those parties believed
the situation would not have been that difficult had
the number of Jews in Poland been smaller. That was
the opinion, for example, of the Peasant Party, Poland's
largest. Peasants did not frown on Jewish competition,
therefore nationalists could not stir them to excesses.
All the same, peasants, more than town dwellers, were
distrustful of anything "alien." Peasants
were also submissive to the clergy. The latter, for
their part, sympathized with nationalist parties (even
if for nothing else than their Catholicism), and treated
as continually valid the words said by the Jews demanding
the death of Jesus, "His blood be on us, and on
our children." The stance of the priests had an
effect on the peasant population.
The only party to have strongly
opposed any violence, to have sided with Jews and to
have demanded equal rights for them not only formally
but also in fact was the Polish Socialist Party (PPS).
Together with Bund and Poale Zion, they organized, for
example, squads to defend Jews against attacks. The
Democratic Alliance (SD), with its primarily intelligentsia
membership, did not show any traces of anti-Semitism,
At the beginning, the "sanacja"
ruling group adhered to the tradition of tolerance adopted
by Józef Piłsudski, the head of state until 1935; later
however it accepted many of the theses of the nationalists.
Jews, even if Polonized for long, were not admitted
to higher state administration positions, and certain
careers were inaccessible to them altogether. Those
restrictions imposed on Jews going native were a product
of society's usually hostile and suspicious attitude
towards them. The assimilated Jews were reproached with
their origin and heckled. This way, rejected by their
old community, they did not succeed in finding a new
Polish population's prejudice
against Jews was not an unrequited feeling as Jews were
not well-disposed towards Poles, either. Ill-will inevitably
produced ill-will, while discrimination aroused resistance.
These notwithstanding, differences of culture and customs
made Jews, too, see Poles as "alien." However,
this feeling in Jews was not as strong as in Poles as
certain groups of Jews did have some general idea of
Polish culture. Those groups included particularly those
people who went to school in the two interwar decades,
because at that time Jewish school students were obliged
to have some, even if feeble, idea of Polish history
and literature. Polish children, on the other hand,
never heard, for instance, the names of outstanding
The feeling of alienation caused
that the two peoples, not showing any interest in each
other in their everyday life, did not even try to understand
each other's views and motivations. Whatever they did
not understand, they disapproved of.
This way, these two nations lived
not with each other but by each other. The reasons of
such state of affairs can be found in the already mentioned
behaviour of both Jews as well as Poles. The Polish
side, by being much more numerous and having power and
also by aggravating the situation by its aggressiveness,
played the decisive role in sustaining this division.
The large group of Polish anti-Semites bore particular
blame for that.
But all those adversities did
not settle Polish-Jewish relations in general. Where
there came to direct contacts (such as between the dealer
and the buyer, the doctor and the patient or among school
friends), bias and stereotypes gave way to peaceful
Such, in short, were the relations
between Jews and Poles on the outbreak of World War
Occupation of Poland and Polish-Jewish
Relations in the Years 1939-1942
When there is mention of the Relief Council for Jews,
one sometimes hears a question, Why did it come into
existence so late, as late as in mid-1942, by which
time the Nazis had managed to exterminate about a half
of Poland's Jews?
As to the majority of historical
events, to this one, too, there is not one exhaustive
and all-explaining answer. First and foremost, one must
see the events through the prism of the time they were
taking place. It is very difficult for the postwar generation
to do. Everybody first learns that there was The Holocaust
during which nearly 6 million European Jews were killed,
majority of them on the Polish territory. The realization
of this fact is overpowering. What happened before that
seems to be a mere preparation for the final tragedy.
People living at the time did
not realize that. Neither Poles nor Jews could envisage
what was to occur in the years 1941-1944. They were
absorbed in the current day which was bad enough for
The German reign of terror began
already during the military operations. Initially it
affected Poles and Jews to more or less the same degree.
In the towns they occupied, Germans shot a huge number
of hostages, both Poles and Jews. By the hands of Germans
died priests and rabbis, political activists and teachers.
Germans started to ship Polish youth as forced labourers
to Germany (between October 1939 and the end of 1942,
approximately 75,000 people were transported out of
Warsaw alone), and Jews - to labour camps where some
of them died of exhaustion and disease. All schools,
from primary schools through universities, were closed
down (Poles were soon allowed to open primary schools).
All political, cultural and social organizations were
banned (save a few charity organizations). The press,
publishers, museums and theatres (except several lowest-standard
variety shows) were shut up. People were deprived of
their radio receivers, meanwhile listening to the radio
was liable to the death penalty. Curfew was in force
throughout the war. All larger enterprises were taken
over by the German authorities. By 1941, compared to
the prewar period, wages rose only 1.5 times while the
cost of living skyrocketed 12 times (by the end of the
occupation, 70 times while, for example in France, only
6 times). The intelligentsia remained out of work most
of the time. The restrictions imposed on the entire
country as well as extremely difficult economic conditions
caused that the occupation in Poland was much more arduous
than in western Europe, and that it considerably restricted
the population's freedom of action.
Jews came under extra orders
which made their fate much more cruel. Already in 1939
they were ordered to wear the star-of-David sign. They
were ousted from work in institutions and enterprises
while the ban on the free command over one's money made
any economic activity impossible. The last measure taken
by Germans was the establishment of ghettos.
That was a shock to Poles, as
well. But at the beginning, both Poles and Jews treated
this decision as a mere separation of two groups of
population. People fathomed that life behind the walls
would be hard, but not that it would enfeeble those
confined within the walls. People believed that situation
to be a transient one, that the war would end in half
a year, maybe a year, and then everything would return
to normal. Poles felt more indignant at Germans' savagery,
at their barbaric return to the Dark Ages as concerned
ghettos, than they sympathized with Jews. It was usually
the people who before the war had had some personal
contacts with Jews who showed understanding for their
The ghetto walls played another
role, as well. The walls and the different tactics used
by Germans towards Jews and Poles exacerbated the divisions
between them. They did not put up a joint opposition
to the common enemy, which could lessen the still rabid
The desperate situation of the
Jewish population did not emerge overnight. It grew
worse gradually, which made people get gradually accustomed
to it. People worried less and less about the distress
of the others. Even Jews enclosed within ghettos sank
into stupor and just passed corpses lying in the street
by, engrossed in their own problems. A myriad of Jewish
diaries show that. A considerable number of Poles, who
did not witness the distressing ghetto scenes and who
could not quite believe them, thus got hardened to the
ever more ominous news arriving from ghettos. With the
same dwindling agitation they reacted to the disappearance
of their own people.
In those circumstances, the initial
help Poles offered to Jews was not great. It was individuals
- relatives, friends, colleagues (e.g. doctors, lawyers),
fellow-workers or members of the same party, who came
to Jews' relief.
There were forbidding phenomena
occurring at the same time. There were legion of people
to take advantage of Jews' predicament and to buy dirt-cheap
anything they could not carry with them to ghetto, and
to take into "custody" Jewish goods those
profiteers were not going to return. Another group,
people who watched for ghetto fugitives in order to
blackmail and fleece them of all they had (the so-called
szmalcownicy) were sheer criminals.
German attack against Russia
in mid-1941 resulted in making the situation of Jews
much more awful. From the eastern territories of the
prewar Poland, now seized by Germans, to the centre
of the country, the news about mass executions spread
from mouth to mouth. Even though either Poles or Jews
could not for long believe it, they were nevertheless
filled with apprehension. This way, when in autumn 1941
the underground press confirmed that news, the "ground
was cleared" and public responsiveness-dulled.
At the same time, all country
received the news abut the cordial welcome Jews accorded
to the Red Army occupying Poland's eastern territories,
and about the Jews' subsequent fervent collaboration
with the Soviet administration, the machinery of repression
included. The rejoicing at the Soviet arrival was in
part the rejoicing at the evading of the German occupation.
But at the same time Jews often revealed their malice
towards the fallen Polish state, and the desire to take
revenge on Poles, "who were so great yesterday,
and today they are so small," for their prewar
The news was true, it referred
however to some Jews only (although in some areas, admittedly,
quite many). In a later period, that Jewish attraction
to the Soviet authorities diminished as the latter abolished
all Jewish social and political organizations as well
as expelled a large number of Jews up-country.
The information spread among
the Poles, exposed particularly the reports on greetings
and collaboration. Anti-Semites heightened those reports
as they corroborated their own opinion about Jews' hostile
feeling towards Poland. Also, such reports absolved
the idle Poles from failing to come to Jews' relief.
"If they could cooperate with our enemies in the
east, why should we risk our life for them here?,"
was the reasoning of anti-Semites.
The risk of life was by no means
a superficial excuse. Governor-general Hans Frank ordered
that any help to a Jew would be punished by death. Frank's
order was promptly put into effect.
Although incomparable with the
situation of Jews, the terror among Poles was steadily
rising, too. Following the mass arrests in Warsaw and
numerous executions in the suburban Palmiry in 1940,
in the next year transports to Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck
increased, while the nearby Sękocin and Kabaty woods
became the places of execution of hundreds of people.
Gaols were overcrowded, people were tortured to death
or shot dead without a due court trial.
Such terror not only fanned hatred
of the army of occupation but also imbued people with
the feeling of helplessness. The great, very well-equipped
western armies, and since 1941 the armed forces of the
Soviet giant, too, were unable to resist the German
onslaught. Compared to the Allies, what chance, if any
at all, could Poles stand, who were moreover poorly
armed and under continuous surveillance?
Such moods were opposed by the
Polish underground resistance movement which began to
take shape immediately after the defeat in 1939. The
ZWZ Union for Armed Struggle came into being first,
already in autumn. In 1942 it became the Home Army (AK).
Small political or political-and-military organizations
were mushrooming, yet they were quickly exposed and
annihilated by Germans. The ZWZ/AK operations, however,
soon embraced all Polish territories, establishing an
efficient organization. In 1940, the ZWZ/AK numbered
40,000 officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers
(in 1944 - over and above 300,000). The Union's tasks
included propaganda, cadre training and the preparation
of a general uprising which was to coincide with the
advance of the Allied forces to the country's borders.
Also, the ZWZ/AK tried to absorb all military organizations
established by political groupings, and to build up
a uniform underground army. To merge all those organizations
took much time (until 1944), and tactical and coordinating
effort. A part of the Peasant Battalions (subordinated
to the Peasant Party) and the National Armed Forces
remained independent of the AK to the end.
Dominant prewar parties, such
as the National Party and the National Radical Camp
(which formed two groups: the Confederation of Nation
and the Entrenchment), the Polish Socialist Party (under
the cryptonym of the WRN Liberty, Equality, Independence),
the Peasant Party (SL) and the Labour Party, resumed
their activities to play the leading role in the political
life of the underground. These parties saw the postwar
future as a total return to the relations and problems
as they were before 1939. They therefore followed their
respective old line. Thus, despite of the tragically
different situation, the Confederation of Nation and
the Entrenchment were spreading anti-Jewish propaganda,
blaming Jews for everything that led to the historical
disaster, "They are responsible for the war. For
the fall of the nation. For the Freemasonry, Communism,
the disintegration of the intelligentsia and poverty
of the masses." In the Entrenchment's programme
pamphlet Przyszła Polska - państwem narodowym [The Future
Poland - a National State], its author, "L. Podolski,"
i.e. Karol Stojanowski, argued that the emigration of
Jews "is almost as crucial to the future of our
nation as the regaining of independent statehood. Both
the loss of independence as well as the remaining of
Jews in Poland threatens Poles with a slow death."
Other groups, Socialists in particular,
strongly opposed anti-Jewish, nationalist publications.
In April 1941, the WRN wrote, "The pamphlet [Przyszła
Polska - państwem narodowym--T.P.] seems to be something
hideous in the circumstances we have been living in.
Messrs. Podolskis announce the struggle against citizens
of another nationality." The WRN stated it explicitly
that in the Polish underground movement there could
be no room for this kind of propaganda.
The sympathetic interest in the
situation of Jews shown by other, Leftist, groupings
and by Biuletyn Informacyjny, the organ of the ZWZ/AK,
counterweighed that nationalist propaganda. There is
no doubt, however, that the aggressive, nationalist
writing had an ill effect on the attitude of a part
of Polish society whose posture towards Jews had been
slightly better in reaction to the persecution of that
But even the most extremist groupings
found there was no question of any collaboration with
the occupation authorities in this regard. In May 1944
they could state in the Myśl Polska, a periodical they
published in London, "In all [occupied] countries
in Europe, [Germans] found political groups to set their
hand to the extermination of Jews, only in Poland there
was not and there is not such a group."
Neither did the Catholic Church
change its prewar attitude to Jews. To be sure, there
was quite a number of monasteries which harboured Jewish
children, there were priests who were helping those
in hiding. The priests at large however, particularly
in the provinces, persisted in reminding their flock
that Jews had crucified Jesus, and in instilling in
them the belief in Jewish ritual murders prey to which
Christian children fell. Neither did the priests encourage
their parishioners to help; on the contrary, they warned
the faithful off and discouraged them from succouring
The position of the Polish emigre
government in France (which moved to London, then),
regarding national minorities in general, was clear.
From the beginning of the occupation, the declarations
of government-in-exile representatives assured minorities
that in the future, reborn Poland they would enjoy full
national development and protection of the law.
Inasmuch however as the majority
of underground formations were set up early, their evolution
into a uniform machinery, the division of labour and
mutual subordination had taken a long time before they
finally took shape. The relevant decisions were the
prerogative of the government-in-exile, but its own
opinions basically differed from those held by "the
country," i.e. the ZWZ/AK and political parties
(the latter had their counterparts in London). "The
country" insisted on the formation by the ZWZ/AK
of the exclusive, nationwide military-political-administrative
structure, while the government demanded the separation
of civilian (superior) and military powers. The government
wanted the civilian organization to represent it at
For long the situation was all
the more complex that there was not one concept what
that London representation should be like. One day it
was "the country," the other the government
who put forward new proposals and demands. First dealt
with was the possibility that the representation would
consist of delegates of one of the existing socio-political
organizations, next, that it would be formed by delegates
of the larger parties (the so-called joint representation).
Then, despite the objections of "the country,"
the government resolved to appoint three separate representations:
for the central territories, i.e. those of the General
Gouvernement (GG) set up by Germans, for the western
territories, annexed to Germany, and for those occupied
by the Soviets. It was only in 1942 that ultimately
the concept of one representative (delegat) prevailed.
Controversies arose moreover about many detailed issues,
which caused frictions between the strong ZWZ/AK and
for long the weak Delegatura representation, and also
between opposing parties. Representatives of the latter
made up an influential PKP Political Understanding Committee,
recognized as the representation of the people, as the
substitute for parliament. The Committee advised, first,
the ZWZ/AK Headquarters, and, from 1942, the Government
Appointments policy was another
matter in dispute. When at the end of 1940 the Government
appointed the Labour Party-connected Cyryl Ratajski
its first delegate (to the GG alone), while the PKP
wanted to have an SL representative in this post, the
PPS/WRN put a boycott on Ratajski.
It is only the year 1942 that
can be recognized as the one when the underground movement
in Poland took root and grew stronger. In that year,
too, the London-based government spent considerably
more money on "the country," on the Government
Representation in particular. Inasmuch as, for example
in 1941/42 civilian and political organizations received
a mere DM 900,000 (which was very little considering
the need to establish the Representation's machinery,
communication with London, etc.), in 1942/43 the sum
of the transfer increased to DM 3 million and U.S.$
3 million. That made it possible to carry on with organizational
and administrative operations, but also to undertake,
for instance, more intensive welfare activities, including
relief for Jews.
At this point one should add
that any earlier relief for ghettos was virtually impossible.
It would require not only huge sums of money which the
Government representation did not have, but also throwing
transports of food across the ghetto walls. All sorts
of smugglers bribed the German police to throw food
across the walls, yet that was not the method to be
used by the Polish underground. Jews understood that.
Neither Emanuel Ringelblum in his Kronika getta warszawskiego
nor any other diarist had any reservations about Polish
underground's behaviour in this respect. The only thing
the underground movement could do was to help those
ghetto runaways who found themselves within the sphere
of underground activities.
translated by Maria Chmielewska-Szlajferowa
Konspiracyjna Rada Pomocy
Żydom w Warszawie 1942 - 1945
[Underground Relief Council for Jews in Warsaw 1942-1945]
IV. CHARGES AND FUNDS
People Entrusted to the Care of
the Relief Council for Jews (RPŻ)
Both alliances and parties who belonged to the Council
and delegated their old activists, collaborators or
their own people in general, as well as organizations
engaged in aiding Jews in their own capacity, had a
say on the selection of the Council's charges. Those
organizations relieved the RPŻ of care about the people
already on the relief fund or on other forms of aid.
Those to provide most generous
aid to their fellow-citizens were the Jewish organizations
who collected funds from their head offices abroad.
More often than not the scopes of activities of the
RPŻ, the ŻKN Jewish National Committee and Bund coincided
if not overlapped.
Initially the boundaries of their
activities were more distinct. Jewish organizations
assisted their own members, their own "activists"
primarily. In the report Bund wrote to London on 15
November 1943, it communicated it was going to allocate
the funds raised so far "to the keeping of several
hundred comrades, their families, flats, to supplies
of clothes, underwear, footwear, medicines, shelters
(if necessary), to the redeeming of prisoners, and to
the paying of extortion money." In its own report
from the same day, ŻKN, too, admitted that out of the
sum of 3 million złoty spent on charity between January
and September 1943, nearly a half, i.e. 1.3 million
złoty, went to members of ŻKN's own organizations.
When however the ŻKN was distributing
the Council's funds, it allocated money to unassociated
Jewish population. In the letter dated 16 June 1943,
"Members of our group have
not and do not avail themselves of the Council's funds
set aside for our charges. The sums the Council disburses
to me personally are distributed solely among people
who do not belong to our group."
Later however, even when distributing
the Bund money, both Berman and Feiner stopped supporting
members of their parties so earnestly. Maybe that was
due to larger funds available and, maybe, because of
the intentions of the grantors (who perceived the ŻKN
and Bund leaderships not merely as representatives of
definite political orientations but as the only existing
Jewish underground organizations through whom they could
reach all those in hiding). In memos from 1944, both
groups emphasized (which they had not done before) aid
given to unassociated persons. And thus, in March 1944
Bund advised the Government Plenipotentiary that it
had provided for "about 2,000 charges (people who
do not at all belong to our organization)," and
the ŻKN, in its report to London, dated 24 May 1944,
stated that members of the political parties organized
in the Committee received only 15 per cent of the disbursed
From the beginning, the problem
of party membership or organizational ties of the Council's
charges was of no consequence at all: the Council helped
all those who managed to get in contact with it and
who were most in need. The Council did not ask anyone
of his/her political preferences.
Another line followed by the
Jewish organizations--which they initially wanted to
prompt to the Council, too--was that of saving, above
all, "valuable representatives of public life and
of the worlds of culture, science and art." Representatives
of Bund and the ŻKN pursued that line at numerous Council
meetings. There has remained the relevant letter from
the Coordination Commission to the RPŻ, dated 8 February
1943. It reads:
"One should [...] raise
that matter that a number of exemplary public activists,
men of letters, etc. have been all that time living
in the ghetto. [...] We deem it our and your duty to
save from the Holocaust first of all social and political
activists [...] One should realize the virtues of this
group of people who represent the most valuable and
noble succession of the Jewish centre in Warsaw."
Initially, the Council came in
this regard under the influence of the Jewish organizations,
but later it returned to the TKPŻ's conception of heeding
just the needs of its charges, not their social position.
At the beginning there was a
certain territorial "division of labour" between
the Council and the Jewish organizations. The ŻKN and
Bund concentrated rather on work within the ghettos'
limits, on obtaining the release of individuals and
groups of people therefrom, and on activities in the
provinces, including attempts to reach concentration
camps. The Council, for its part, looked, first and
foremost, after Jewish refugees in the "Aryan"
parts of towns.
In time, as Germans were liquidating
ghettos and small Jewish centres in the provinces, the
areas of the Coordinating Commission's and of the Council's
activities overlapped each other increasingly. Talking
to the Council's Rek and Berman on 28 October 1943,
the Government Plenipotentiary "recommended marking
more distinct boundaries of their sheltering operations
in order to normalize relations between them and to
avoid sparing the same money twice." That was however
a request very hard to fulfil.
Acting on the assumptions put
forward above, the Council took care of dependents representing
different social and political circles. Some of those
people had been led out of the ghetto by the ŻKN or
Bund, and confided directly to the Council's care. The
majority, however, had managed to escape on their own,
and then, finding themselves on the "Aryan"
side and seeking financial or legalization assistance,
found their way to the AK Home Army cells or to political
parties associated with the London camp. From those,
the track--although not always fast and direct--led
to the representation of the government-in-exile or
directly to the Council. Council workers who learnt
about other refugees when visiting provinces, tried,
to the best of their abilities, to put those on the
list of the Council charges, without even being asked
to do so by the latter.
Finally, in the last category
of charges were those Jews who had initially lived on
their own savings or availed themselves of the hospitality
of their Polish friends but at a certain moment had
to apply for relief aid.
How many charges did the Relief
Council for Jews have? This question is very difficult
to answer as the RPŻ kept records of only one form of
financial aid, the one they had to account for to the
representatives of the government-in-exile (DR). But
obviously other Council activities were of great significance
to the Jewish population, too. Extent of those activities
can be assessed only roughly, though.
Council activists believe that
prior to the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, RPŻ aid, i.e.
at least one of its forms (financial, legalization,
housing, medical or aid given to children), was provided
to several thousand people. Arczyński assesses their
number at 50,000, Rek at 40,000.
As concerns Warsaw alone, the
number of Jews seeking shelter outside ghetto at one
time or another is estimated at 60,000 (such was also
the tentative estimate Benedykt Hertz, a well-known
writer and himself a former RPŻ charge, made in 1947).
When the Warsaw Uprising broke out, about 30,000 Jews
were hiding in the city according to Arciszewski, and
about 20,000 according to Bartoszewski. It is impossible
to establish how many of those people availed themselves
of the RPŻ's help. Presumably many, especially as concerns
the legalization of their documents.
As we have already said, the
most visible form of aid, financial, was expressed in
significantly more moderate numbers. According to various
Council registers, this aid was provided:
in January-February 1943 to 200-300 people (in Warsaw)
in June 1943 to 1,000 people (in Warsaw)
in October 1943 to 1,000-1,500 people (also in the provinces)
in the fist half of 1944 to 3,000-4,000 people (also
in the provinces).
As concerns Bund, until October 1943 it had been providing
for mere "several hundred comrades." In Warsaw
in March 1944, it had 2,000 charges against 3,000 looked
after by the ŻKN. In May 1944, both these organizations
supported 6,000 people. According to the ŻKN letter
from December 1944, the number of Jews having received
their relief aid prior to the Uprising went up to 6,500.
Financial assistance offered by all three organizations
(Bund, ŻKN and RPŻ) at the time, concerned about 12,000
It is still more difficult to
assess even roughly the number of Jews benefitting from
the care of the Warsaw RPŻ after the collapse of the
Uprising, when the rump Council functioned in Milanówek.
Organizational chaos, uncertain future and the pace
of political events were unpropitious for record keeping.
We can only say that, because Jewish alliances had for
quite some time not received money transfers from abroad,
the Council's funds were allocated to all Jews who could
be reached, no matter who had been taking care of them
Yet, there could not have possibly
been too many of the Council charges. According to reports
from the first days following the liberation, about
as few as 2,700 people of Jewish origin had been hiding
in Warsaw suburbs. On the left bank of the Vistula River,
not yet liberated in December 1944 and therefore under
the RPŻ's charge, there had been living no more than
1,500--1,800 people. Having obtained relatively large
funds (14 million złoty within November and December),
the Council earmarked them primarily to more substantial
benefits provided to those people (which was necessary
in the difficult post-Uprising circumstances and in
view of a big rise in prices), the Council earmarked
the remainder for the charges in the areas farther away
from Warsaw, for example for labour camp prisoners,
for Jewish children in evacuated orphanages, for ŻKN
and Bund charges hiding in provincial villages, etc.
It is not known how many people were able to live to
see the end of the war owing to those last subsidies.
Raising possibly largest funds was of basic and ever
greater significance to the Council's performance nationwide,
which was a result of the growing pauperization of both
Jewish and Polish populations.
The Jews who were escaping ghetto
in 1941 or who had from the beginning been living on
the "Aryan" side, and who decided on that
move usually had some prospect of survival: a chance
to get a job (if their looks let them "pass"
and if they were sufficiently assimilated to Polish
society) or adequate savings. They could manage somehow,
while the help they needed most involved the possession
of "Aryan" documents, finding a job or accommodation,
establishing contacts with the new environment, etc.
Seldom however were people living
on their savings able to foresee how long these would
have to last them and how steeply prices would rise.
Financial reserves dwindled sooner than expected, whereas
incidents of blackmail, of the finding out of secret
flats, of arrest or death of the people who kept money
could from day to day make death of starvation or of
a lack of funds to pay for another shelter stare entire
families in the face.
Equally difficult was the situation
of people fleeing ghetto on the eve of or during the
mass extermination campaign in the summer of 1942 or
later. They were leaving ghetto penniless and without
any prospects. They were not giving a thought to these
when fleeing in deadly fear of extermination. But on
the other side of the wall, a lack of financial resources
meant a death sentence again.
At the same time, Polish population
was becoming ever less in a position to come to their
aid. In autumn 1939, Poles' earnings were frozen at
the prewar level, to be stepped up only slightly in
a later period. In 1942, average monthly wages of a
blue-collar worker were 200 złoty. During the occupation,
an office clerk made an average of 300 złoty--450 złoty
a month, while pensions amounted to 150 złoty--200 złoty.
That certainly was not enough
to live and maintain a family. People eked out their
livelihood by smuggling, trading, baking cakes for restaurants
and cafes and by doing various put-out jobs. Yet, even
those extra incomes were not enough to check the growing
poverty of the urban population. Only a small group
of war profiteers did not have to fear poverty. Needless
to say, Żegota activists did not belong to that group.
Meanwhile, market prices were
rising by leaps and bounds. Taking July 1939 cost of
living for 100, in February 1941 it was 425, and a year
later--1,271. In 1943/1944, real wages of the Polish
blue-collar worker fell to 8 per cent of the real prewar
wages, while food rations did not exceed 16 per cent
of the old consumption.
Rural areas were steadily falling
into poverty, too, but at a slower pace. Larger estates
got under German trusteeship. From the rest, peasant
holdings included, Germans were appropriating increasingly
large levies of grain and meat.
In those circumstances, more
often than not those willing to help could not afford
it. Especially that people in hiding diminished the
possible helpers' chances to earn money. "The Jew
is a little child who cannot take a step on its own,"
wrote Emanuel Ringelblum. "A little child"
who had to be fed and whose various needs had to be
fulfilled. That cost a lot, restricted one's freedom
of movement and created additional complications.
The book Ten jest z ojczyzny
mojej cites many relevant examples. For instance, Feliks
Cywiński, who was hiding several Jews in his flat, writes:
"Where did we derive means
of subsistence? It depended. At the beginning, Finkielsztein
had some money. Initially, everyone of us had something
valuable: a ring, a watch, some remnants of family jewels.
[...] When this money ran out, I sold my house in Mickiewicza
Street in Brwinów, and thus we pulled through to the
Warsaw Uprising. Food had to be bought in small quantities
lest anyone should wonder what a single man like me
needed so much food for. I carried it in a brief-case,
in tiny parcels, in pockets. It was necessary to bring
successive portions several times a day. The purchase
and delivery of food was very much time-consuming."
When one day Mr. Cywiński (himself
a graduate engineer) found himself in difficulties,
he went to an old regiment comrade of his. "Antoni
Polny," Cywiński remembers, "had a basement
upholstery shop in Mokotowska Street." As Cywiński's
flat was no longer safe, Polny "agreed to close
his shop for a time, under the pretext of overhauling
it," and to take Jews to his place.
Another example: Mrs. Janina
Szandorowska, whose colonel husband was abroad, was
running a small, five-room pension in 11 Wielka Street.
The pension was to provide for her and for her three
children attending clandestine classes. However, as
an increasing number of her guests were Jews (who often
were penniless), the older children not only had to
abandon studies to help their mother at home, but also
to find a paid job. It was not the pension which provided
for them, but they who provided for the pension.
Sylwia Rzeczycka, for her part,
writes (p. 422):
"I know of Mrs. Ksenia Madej
who took a Jewish child, Alicja Auerbach, under her
roof. She kept her in hiding for six [?] years. Mrs.
Madej could not practise as a nurse in her own flat,
because the child had Semitic looks."
The examples of similar behaviour
The RPŻ was aware of the general,
increasingly difficult situation, of the need for ever
greater assistance to both the Jews remaining in hiding
and--sometimes--to their keepers. Therefore the Council
recognized amassing as much money as possible to be
its most important task.
According to preliminary assumptions, put forward
by the Council's Interim Presidium in December 1942,
the "funds' basis" were to be:
"a) budgetary funds allocated
by the Government in London,"
b) "another, additional,
source should be earmarked funds collected at home and
Collecting funds in the country
was initially a major source of financing the TKPŻ aid
campaign. The Council resolved to carry on with the
money raising but as merely a supplementary activity.
In practice, however, the Council gave it up whatsoever.
The widespread impoverishment of the public did not
promise gathering any more substantial sums this way.
Instead, the people involved in helping Jews could only
run into an even greater danger.
This way RPŻ became the organization
engaged solely in sparing, not in raising, money. The
funds at the Council's disposal were from the State
Treasury. At times the Council received subsidies--directly
or indirectly--from international Jewish organizations.
All money from the West, sent
by the Government in London or, through its mediation,
by international organizations, was air-dropped. The
air drops were picked up by special groups of the Home
Army whose liaison officers delivered them to Warsaw,
to the AK section called "Imports." From there
the money set aside for the Government Representation
and for Jewish organizations was transferred to the
Representation's Finance Department which spared it
according to the list earlier radioed to them from London.
This apparently was a difficult
and very dangerous route. Not all airplanes reached
the appointed place, some of them had to turn back to
their bases, others were downed by the Germans. Out
of the nearly 860 flights to Poland, organized in wartime
England, only about 480 managed to parachute the supplies
they were carrying; 63 of them did not return to their
home airports, while 11, out of 345, paratroopers dropped
over Poland suffered death. Fifty per cent of the money
transfers are supposed to have been seized by Germans,
still before they fell into the hands of AK soldiers
waiting for them.
And how much money did Germans
seize later, already from Polish liaison officers and
guards [?]? Data is not available. But considering the
war conditions, no-one can doubt that both financial
losses as well as casualties were suffered along the
route between the place where the supplies were to be
dropped and their addressee. All the same, the maintenance
of this communications route was the necessary condition
of the existence of a good many underground institutions
The entire budget of, for example,
the Representation, with the RPŻ funds being its integral
part, was based on airdrop money. On the motion of the
director of the Department of Internal Affairs, the
Government Plenipotentiary decided how large those funds
should be. The decision-makers took into consideration
the current reserves which were usually affected by
the more or less regular inflow of money from London.
The Government Plenipotentiary did not devise a fixed
budget plan for the Council. He made the amount of money
available dependent on the possibilities and needs,
and also on the creation by the RPŻ of an efficient
Minutes of many meetings show
the Council striving for increasingly big subsidies;
the relevant letters and memorials addressed to the
Government Representative and to London make up about
50 per cent of the correspondence preserved. The RPŻ
fought a particularly fierce struggle for subsidies
in the initial period of its existence, and then in
the autumn of 1943 and in spring 1944.
When the Council was being set
up, the Representation allocated to it 300,000 złoty
for the months of January and February 1943. Nevertheless,
already on 12 January the Council applied for an extra
150,000 złoty it needed to take care of 330 people in
the Lublin province, and to launch more energetic legalization
and accommodation campaigns. But before the Representation
had time to grant the application and to pay the money
(which took place in February), the developments in
the ghetto had prompted the Council to lodge another
appeal. The letter from the Council, dated 31 January,
shed full light on the grim situation: the Nazi attempt
at another extermination campaign on 18 January 1943
was so fiercely resisted by the Jews that it had to
be abandoned. Germans were however likely to wage it
again. Taking advantage of the temporary cessation,
lots of people escaped from the ghetto every day. To
help them survive, the Council asked for "an appropriation
of at least 500,000 złoty for this purpose."
This time it took the Representation
several weeks to consider the Council's request which
was not fully granted, after all. In the letter dated
4 March, the Jewish Department advised the RPŻ that
its "allocation [...] is hereby raised to 250,000
złoty a month."
The news, read out to the Council's
meeting on 25 March 1943, aroused the indignation of
Council members. On their behalf, Rek and Feiner prepared
a new, very sharp memorandum in which they stated that
an allocation so grossly incommensurate to the needs,
made any concerted relief action impossible. If, as
a consequence, "the usefulness of the Committee's
[i.e. the Council's] existence is brought in question,
the DR is the one to bear the whole blame for that."
Even though "Jan" began
the next meeting (on 1 April 1943) with the declaration
of increasing the Council's budget to 500,000 złoty
a month (it was actually increased to 400,000 złoty
a month), the memorandum was all the same read out,
accepted and handed over to him as to the DR representative.
Next, the Council sent to the Representation and to
delegates of member-alliances sitting on the Political
Understanding Committee (PKP) a statement of the necessary
expenditures planned for March and April (to the tune
of 600,000 złoty and 1 million złoty respectively) and
of the allocations actually received. From that statement
it resulted that the allocations covered the budget
estimate in about a mere 40 per cent (cf. Annex, record
While the Council and DR were
arguing about money, on 19 April 1943 the Warsaw Ghetto
revolted. The Government Representation responded to
it immediately by (without being asked) granting a single,
extra allocation of 500,000 złoty, on the distinct reservation,
however, that the money should be spent solely on relief
At that time the Council did
not confine itself to seeking more money from the Government
Plenipotentiary alone. The Council realized that the
Government Representation did not have any substantial
funds to dip into. Only London had greater financial
abilities. Therefore, while requesting an increase of
several hundred thousand złoty, the Council applied
at the same time to the minister of social welfare for
a direct, continuous subsidy--not foreseen in the budget--to
the tune of 6 million--8 million złoty a month.
In the first relevant memorandum
from January 1943, the Council explained in detail why
they were making such huge demands: "... to provide
for [Jewish], usually orphaned children alone, who were
upwards of 10,000 (i.e. 10 per cent of their previous
number), assuming 500 złoty a month per child, it is
necessary to secure about 5 million złoty a month."
When all was said and done, the Council was to aid several
hundred people nationwide. "Substantial and immediate
help is indispensable [...] every delay of this action
is tantamount to new casualties, to new graves of the
murdered people." (Cf. Annex, record 6.)
Although the RPŻ did not overestimate
the needs of the severely tried Jewish community, it
is nevertheless doubtful whether it would have been
able to satisfy those needs had it even had sufficient
funds at its disposal. To take over and hide from Germans
10,000 children required a much better developed machine
than the one the Council could build within a month
it was set up. Even after several months of operation,
such campaign would have stood no chance of succeeding.
But they were not confronted with the challenge. The
government did not provide aid generous enough, presumably
by the same reason why it could not finance, for example,
the campaign to rescue the 30,000 displaced children
from the Zamość province. It was only the unorganized
Polish population who tried somehow to help them.
The uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto
induced the Council to intensify their endeavours. Referring
to Prime Minister Sikorski's radio address on 5 May
1943, in which he appealed to society to come to the
aid of Jews, seven days later, once again, the RPŻ requested
funds "indispensable to the establishment of such
relief centres, to assisting the victims in a regular
fashion, not by fits and starts [...] to reaching every
place [...] where it is still possible to deliver a
man from criminals." The Government in London passed
over also this request in silence. The Council had to
face the fact that its budget would remain merely a
part of the budget of the Government Representation.
In the next few months, cooperation
between the Council and the Government Representation,
at least as regards finance, developed. At the RPŻ's
request, dated 10 May 1943 --this time with the total
support of the DR Jewish Department--the Government
Plenipotentiary allocated 150,000 złoty a month to district
Councils in Cracow and Lwów, which was a great relief
to the budget of the Warsaw Council. A certain (although
initially insignificant) relief sent by Bund and the
ŻKN helped meet the most urgent needs. It was only in
the middle of August 1943 that the Council asked again
for increased allocations (from 400,000 złoty to 750,000
złoty to Warsaw, and from 150,000 złoty to 250,000 złoty
to the provinces.)
The moment however was not favourable
as just then control of the Council spending revealed
the use of the April allocation out of keeping with
the Representation's instructions, i.e. not on charity
alone. (The problem of the Council's position regarding
the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto is more widely discussed
in one of the following chapters.) That fact shook confidence
of the Representation who itself was in acute financial
difficulties at the time. Thus, it did not even respond
to the Council's memorandum. The next letter, from 9
September 1943, fell through, too. In this one, the
Council had substantiated its August demand with information
about the development of its machinery.
Although the RPŻ was aware that
its relations with the DR got cooler, it did not give
up. Its third letter (dated 8 October) gave a broad
outline of the dire situation of the remnants of the
Jewish community in order to stress the urgency of their
appeal to the Government Plenipotentiary to enable the
Council to perform its duties. The situation was critical.
"If we do not find adequate resources now, the
whole relevant aid can prove belated and useless,"
wrote the Council. Moreover, Council records mention
that at the same time it asked the WRN Wolność, Równość,
Niepodległość [Liberty, Equality, Independence] and
the SL Peasant Alliance to plead the Jewish cause.
Finally, on 28 October 1943 a
meeting took place between representatives of the RPŻ
and the Government Plenipotentiary, Jan Stanisław Jankowski.
The others to attend were Director Leopold Rutkowski
of the Department of Internal Affairs, and Witold Bieńkowski.
Tadeusz Rek and Adolf Berman, who represented the Council,
gave a precise outline of its difficult situation: because
of a lack of funds it was unable to provide care for
all those seeking help, meanwhile the allowance for
the Council's old charges had to be reduced from 500
złoty to 300 złoty--350 złoty per person. The clothes
of thousands of people were wearing off, which was particularly
ominous in the face of the coming winter. Berman said
that after the Germans had murdered 3 million Jews,
"there remained hardly 250,000--300,000 [Jews]
living in terrible conditions... The Council however
offered help to no more than 1,000--1,500 people."
After a long discussion on Żegota's
various problems, Janicki increased the Council's budget
to 750,000 złoty in November and December, and to 1
million złoty as of January 1944. He announced moreover
that, through the mediation of the emigre government,
the International Union of Jews in America had contributed,
without indicating any specific addressee, U.S. $25,000,
out of which however it had assigned $2,000 to the peasants
displaced from the Lublin province, and $23,000 to the
Jews in hiding on the "Aryan" side. The Government
Plenipotentiary resolved to transfer these $23,000 to
This way RPŻ not only got an
increase in its regular allocation but also a considerable
single shot of cash. Reporting on the course of the
meeting to a Council meeting, Berman said, "As
regards our financial position, the Council has reached
a turning-point. Now it shall be able to work as it
had wanted to work from the very beginning."
The Council Presidium arranged
in detail for the distribution of the amounts obtained,
planning expenditures for the next three months. The
increased allocations from the Government Representation,
the appropriation of the extra pay and the payments
promised by Bund and the ŻKN made together more than
5 million złoty which they decided to pay to their charges
throughout November and December 1943 and January 1944.
The Council resolved to take care of all new people
in need, to grant a 200 złoty winter extra to all charges,
both the old and the new ones, and to keep the basic
allowance to the tune of 500 złoty per person.
In practice however, the Council
did not succeed in providing help to all those in need:
although the funds available allowed them to raise the
number of the Council's charges to 3,500, it turned
out that the number of the needy was larger than that.
It is difficult to establish how many persons did not
enlist aid as some Council records mention 500 and others--1,000
Still, that relative freedom
of action lasted through January, then, all of a sudden,
it stopped. Upon exhausting the extraordinary grant,
the Council's budget was reduced from 2 million złoty
to 1,3 million złoty. Again, the RPŻ cut the allowances,
this time by 20 per cent, it restricted every other
spending, and, again, applied to the Government Representation
for increasing its allowance to 2 million złoty a month
and for an extra, single allowance to the amount of
350,000 złoty to pay off the arrears.
Yet, the Government Representation's
financial condition did not allow for such an increase.
To make things worse, Bund and ŻKN, who had for a time
not received any foreign transfers, announced payment
cuts. In March 1944, only Bund paid its contribution,
after all. The Government Representation was advised
that allowances for the Council charges were reduced
by another 20 per cent.
The situation was made somewhat
less painful by the seasonal drop in "free-market"
prices: compared to April 1943, prices for bread, flour
and cereals fell 44 per cent, and for meat and fat by
10 per cent. This fact notwithstanding, the Council
and Jewish organizations found themselves in a very
inauspicious situation. Bieńkowski, who comprehended
the seriousness of the situation, became very active
at the time, sending one memorandum after another to
his superiors in the DR. Other Representation employees
and AK activists (e.g. Aleksander Kamiński, editor of
Biuletyn Informacyjny) also tried to raise money for
the "Jewish section."
At long last, on 5 April 1944,
the Government Plenipotentiary received Council representatives
(this time Feiner and Arczyński). When reporting on
that meeting to the other Presidium members, Arczyński
said that the "DR sees very clearly the needs of
the Council, and will fill them as much as the resources
at the Representation's disposal will allow it."
His comforting view on the situation was probably based
on the fact that the Council was granted an extra allowance
of 500,000 złoty and promised larger grants in the next
months to come.
Yet, the promise was not carried
out either in May or, as it seems, in June. There is
no record saying that the grant was obtained. On the
other hand, on 24 June 1944 the Council asked to be
heard by the Government Plenipotentiary whom they wanted
to brief, among other things, "on the Council's
disastrous finances and on its urgent needs in this
It is not known whether the relevant
meeting took place, but in July, the Council's allowance
was increased to 2 million złoty a month. The Council
received moreover a single grant to the amount of 3
million złoty. That sum probably was the first instalment
of a larger subsidy as in its telegram from 19 July
the Government in London instructed the DR to pay the
Council U.S. $95,000 (about 9 million złoty) transferred
by Joint, and in the next telegram, dated 27 July, to
hand over U.S. $50,000 appropriated to the RPŻ from
the Polish state budget in virtue of the specific resolution
of the Council for the Rescue of the Jewish Population
in Poland (Rada do Spraw Ratowania Ludności Żydowskiej
w Polsce). Yet, the Council had not managed to collect
even that first instalment before the Warsaw Uprising
Needless to say, in the period
between August and October 1944, the RPŻ did not obtain
any grant. When it undertook its activities anew in
Milanówek, it received from the DR the November instalment
plus the back payments for the past three months, i.e.
a joint amount of 8 million złoty. In the next month,
because the Council had insisted on it, together with
the December payment, the Council received also a subsidy
for two months in advance (till February inclusive),
i.e. 6 million złoty.
These payments notwithstanding,
in its telegram from 4 December, the Government in London
ordered to remit to the RPŻ U.S. $100,000 from "American
Jewish organizations." That sum was to be allocated
to the Cracow Council as to the one functioning in the
largest urban centre.
To those $100,000, apparently
a part of the summer subsidy was added, because already
at the beginning of January 1945 the Cracow Council
was advised that it was granted a total sum of $160,000.
The High Council sent a distribution list for this sum
from Milanówek to Cracow on 16 January. Yet, from Arczyński's
account it results that the money was not withdrawn.
Between July 1943 and June 1944,
ŻKN and Bund, too, replenished the Council's budget.
The latter two organizations were among the beneficiaries
of foreign aid. The money came from international political
and civic Jewish organizations, initially by the offices
of the official Juedische Unterstuetzungstelle (JUS)
in Cracow, later also through the Polish Government
in London. From the end of 1942, the amount of transfers
increased substantially. Inasmuch as the earlier correspondence
of Jewish organizations mentions small sums (addressed
to JUS), then, from October 1942 till August 1944, Polish
commandoes parachuted from London carried about $420,000
(equivalent to ca 30 million złoty), and in a somewhat
shorter period between July 1943 and July 1944- almost
as much for the ŻKN.
This is from these sums that
the Jewish organizations remitted (from July 1943 till
June 1944) their monthly payments to the Council to
the amount of 3.2 million złoty which made at the time
about 20 per cent of the RPŻ's budget, and together
with the single, direct foreign grant (in October 1943)--5.3
million złoty, i.e. about 33 per cent of the Councils'
yearly budget. In the first six months of 1943 and in
the third quarter of 1944, the Treasury was the only
supplier of the Council funds, and in the last three
months the Council gave up at least one third of what
it had received to Jewish organizations.
Taking into consideration periods
when state subsidies made 100 per cent, 67 per cent
and 150 per cent of RPŻ's monthly budgets, one has to
agree in general that the Council's two-year existence
was more or less 90 per cent financed by the Polish
government, and 10 per cent by Jewish organizations.
When reckoning the amounts of aid granted by international
Jewish organizations to particular local organizations,
it stands out that since autumn 1943, and especially
since spring 1944, that aid became considerably more
generous, and this not just in Poland, but in other
countries under German occupation, as well. It was easier
however to bear a helping hand to inhabitants of western
than eastern or central Europe. For example, the underground
Committee for the Defence of Jews in Belgium received
considerable sums (running into millions of Belgian
francs) from large banks of Brussels. The banks paid
that money in form of loans world Jewish organizations
were to pay back after the war.
Amounts Obtained by RPŻ (in thousand złoty)
Year Month DR grants Bund, ŻKN payments Foreign grants
Financial Aid: Token or Real?
At the outset of its operations, at the end of 1942,
the RPŻ Presidium decided that the basic monthly allowance--if
it were to bring any, even if modest, relief--should
be no smaller than 500 złoty per person. To keep the
benefits at a steady level, the Council tried not to
accept too many charges.
In practice however, it wasn't
always possible. In the most critical period of the
Ghetto Uprising, the swelling wave of refugees and their
dire predicament exerted so strong a pressure that the
Council was unable too strictly to adhere to its own,
earlier rules. Then, at the end of 1943, it took new
charges, hoping for bigger allowances from the Government
Representation, from the ŻKN Coordinating Commission
and from Bund. This time, they miscalculated. In both
those periods, the Council had to lower the rates.
How much could they be? If in
June 1943 RPŻ had about a thousand charges in Warsaw,
and from the Government Representation it received a
mere 400,000 złoty (about 90 per cent, i.e. 360,000
złoty, it could assign to allowances), a simple calculation
shows that an average rate could barely be 360 złoty.
It could not be much more in the second critical moment,
i.e. in the first half of 1944. To be sure, the monthly
allowances RPŻ was granted at that time amounted to
1.2 million--2 million złoty, yet the number of its
charges grew to 3,000--4,000. The average allowance
could not therefore exceed 360--460 złoty a month.
Presumably even then, very low
rates, under 400 złoty a month, were very rare, which
was achieved in a very harsh way: through the reduction
of the number of beneficiaries. In lean months, all
those who fared somewhat better simply got nothing.
These suppositions find their
confirmation in various references in records of the
Council and of Jewish organizations. These mention the
following amounts of benefits:
January-February 1943 500 złoty
June 1943 300--400 złoty
October 1943 250--500 złoty (sometimes 500--1,500 złoty)
November 1943 500--700 złoty (incl. 200 złoty winter
February 1944 400--500 złoty
March 1944 350--400 złoty
May 1944 500 złoty
The above data are clearly very much incomplete; they
allow for only a very general discernment, at best.
Fortunately, a recently found document throws much more
light on the question of relief, even though it concerns
only one RPŻ section, that of "Felicja" (Maurycy
This document is the financial statement about six months
of activities he submitted to the RPŻ Audit Commission
in June 1944 (see Annex, record 31). In it, Herling-Grudziński
reported every payment made between December 1943 through
May 1944. The rows of numbers beside particular names
mark the limits of relief and reveal the "policy"
towards charges in the periods when scarcity of financial
resources forced the section to differentiate between
the rates, to lower them or even to stop payment of
some of the allowances.
Along with the financial statement,
preserved have also been the receipts by "Felicja's"
charges. Sometimes these receipts show signs of corrections,
unfortunately always the same: the original, bigger
sums put down by beneficiaries are crossed out to be
replaced by smaller ones; usually this is number 5 (meaning
500) being replaced by 4 or 3.
These corrected sums point at
the same time to the circuitous course the receipts
themselves took. There is no question that the receipts
were written out by the charges themselves who, because
of health, "bad looks," etc., could not come
to take their money in person (had they taken the money
personally, they would have entered the correct sum
straight away). They thus signed their receipts (usually
predating the payment itself) in advance and sent them
by the kind offices of their friends, patrons or other
charges. They put down "fives," because those
were probably the amounts they had originally been promised.
What disappointments, what new difficulties must have
underlain these "corrected" sums!
The table below delivers the
summary statement about the allowances paid by Herling-Grudziński.
Disparities among the allowances could be quite substantial,
although extreme (the biggest and the smallest) cases
were rather unusual. As a rule, the most generous allowances
were granted to children who needed care, more frequent
change of clothes which they were outgrowing, and better
nourishment. All the same, most common were payments
to the tune of 500 złoty, even though in the lean months
of February, March and April 1944, 400 złoty allowances
prevailed. By and large, in the "Felicja"
section, the average payment was 428 złoty--522 złoty
a month, which in the light of the figures referred
to above, was a "decent" average.
"Felicja's" Charges and Allowances Paid
(a list based on Herling-Grudziński's financial statement)
Allowances paid (in zloty)
What however was the real value of those "decent"
and especially of the "low" averages? To what
degree were they a real relief, and to what degree were
they only a "token help," to use the expression
oft repeated in the Council's letters to the Government
It is very difficult to answer
this question. The 500 złoty allowance was enough for
2 kg of black-market butter or lard, or 3 kg--4 kg of
pork or 5 kg--6 kg of sugar, which were unavailable
at their official prices. Five hundred złoty could not
buy anything more than that. At the same time, compared
to the purchasing power of the civil servant (see p.
6f), the allowance beneficiary was better off. The same
allowance was two--three times bigger than the average
Yet, such comparisons do not
show anything. No pensioner would have survived the
occupation in Poland without a help from his family
or without some additional earnings. On the other hand,
to the overwhelming majority of Polish families, too,
butter, meat or sugar were luxury goods they afforded
(and this in tiny quantities) only on holidays or which
they bought only for the sick and for little children.
The products like these were effectively supplanted
on the adults' menu by saccharine, flour meals, cereals
and potatoes, butter was replaced by various spreads
made by every family mainly of pumpkin or sugar beets.
It was easier to squeeze all those meals (just as ersatz
tea and coffee) into the occupation budgets.
As yet no study has been carried
out which would allow to determine the costs of living
in those years. Ludwik Landau in his book Ruch cen w
Warszawie od października 1939 r. do października 1941
tried to answer this question with regard to the earlier
years of 1939--1941. According to his calculations (Table
V, p. 138), the monthly costs of living of a working-class
family of four were as follows:
1939 July 120 złoty; for food alone 66 złoty
1939 October 337 złoty; for food alone 264 złoty
1941 October 1,167 złoty; for food alone 930 złoty
Table C in Landau's book (p. 148), covering "monthly
norms of food intake for a four-member working-class
family [...] from September 1940," and Table IV
(pp. 134--137) which quotes prices of particular groceries
in the years 1939--1941, allow to determine approximately
what part of monthly food expenditures (given the low
level of consumption) was in 1941 assigned to three
basic groups of groceries. And thus
group I: bread, flour and cereals made up 43 per cent
of the cost of food,
group II: potatoes, beet roots and cabbage--32 per cent,
group III: meat, fats, milk and eggs--25 per cent.
The list Czesław Madajczyk draws up in his Polityka
III Rzeszy w okupowanej Polsce (vol. I, p. 607) lets
us follow further increases in food prices (until April
1944). Taking the Landau-given sum of 930 złoty from
1941 as the point of departure, and multiplying each
of its component groups by the relevant indices, we
arrive at the following costs of food:
Four-member family One person
1943 April 2,080 złoty 520 złoty
September 1,720 złoty 430 złoty
1944 April 1,800 złoty 450 złoty
December 6,000 złoty 1,500 złoty
The above figures are, needless to say, only a very
rough estimate; they take into consideration, although
in a very simplified manner, food rations as well. Nevertheless,
their quantities give us some discernment as to the
extent to which RPŻ allowances enabled the Jews in hiding
to satisfy their basic needs.
These figures indicate that the full rate could be enough
for modest meals, provided that the ghetto refugee did
not live on his own but ran a house together with others,
for example with the family who were sheltering him/her.
Every lowering of the monthly allowance threw the minimum
for survival out of balance. Besides, even the full
allowance wasn't enough to buy him/her clothes, shoes,
etc. Housing rent was often a problem, too.
The Council tried to make up
for the low rates enabling its charges to use soup-kitchens
run by the Central Council for Social Aid (Rada Główna
Opiekuńcza, RGO) or civic and vocational organizations.
Sometimes the Council, too, paid extra allowances to
repair or buy clothes (e.g. the winter allowance in
November 1943). Given these additional advantages, charges
could save some small money to pay the rent (which,
as indicated by many examples quoted here, they were
often released of). Sometimes they could earn the necessary
money themselves, for example by doing a secret put-out
job if a friend or landlord/landlady agreed to sell
the respective products as his/her own. In particularly
difficult cases, the Council provided additional financial
Taking it all in all, allowances
granted by the RPŻ, as long as they did not drop below
300 złoty--350 złoty, constituted not just a "token
aid," as the Council (presumably for tactical reasons)
described them in its petitions, but provided a real
livelihood for the Jews in hiding. This is confirmed
in the account by Piotr Rudnicki who harboured three
men of Jewish origin: Dr. Maksymilian Klawier, Dr. Bolesław
Raszkes and Kazimierz Libin. "The piling up organizational
problems ultimately made me establish contact with one
of the doctors in the neighbourhood (Dr. Tadeusz Stępniewski)
in whose place people began to cook meals and in various
ways help me in providing food. The same doctor enlisted
financial aid (pretty modest, after all is said and
done) for the people hiding in my place. The donors
were the underground Jewish Committee (associated with
the Government Representation). That money was hardly
enough to provide first for two, then for three persons,"
Well, the money was "hardly
enough," but "enough" after all.
Zofia Rudnicka, head of the Council's
office, who distributed money among several charges,
held a similar opinion on the effectiveness of the RPŻ
relief. According to her, 500 złoty a month was both
very little and very much: enough for the most frugal
living, but it did let one to survive, after all.
Fund Management-Audit Commission
By what way did the money allocated to the Council
reach its representatives, and how did they organize
this money's further distribution? Involved were very
large sums (sometimes not even in złoty but U.S. dollars
). In case of a search--either at home or in the street--it
would be impossible to prove neither the legal source
of the money or its private appropriation (even if by
businesses and the like). Money therefore constituted
a threat almost as great as, for instance, the underground
press, and amassing and carrying it was a fearsome responsibility,
requiring strict precaution.
As was said above, the amount
of the monthly allowance for the RPŻ was decided by
the Government Plenipotentiary who consulted the director
of the Department of Internal Affairs on that matter.
The Department transferred the allocated sums to the
DR's Jewish Department, and this one passed it on to
the Council. Money was usually delivered directly to
the Council's meeting by Jewish Department workers or
members of the RPŻ Presidium or office. Sometimes money
was delivered to Żegota premises where it was kept in
special hiding places (in the floor, in tables with
double tops, in picture frames, arm-chairs, etc.). and
from where it was doled out according to the distribution
list agreed upon earlier.
The techniques of transporting
money differed, usually every "deliveryman"
had worked out his/her own. They avoided brief- and
suitcases, even though banknotes for sums of several
hundred thousand złoty made big bundles. Zofia Rudnicka
and Janina Raabe-Wąsowicz liked to place them between
the layers of their double-bottomed bags or baskets,
or in an ordinary bag under a layer of fruit and vegetables.
Władysław Bartoszewski preferred to make them up into
tight bundles which he next wrapped "casually"
in a newspaper.
Yet, when the allowance sums
increased to 1 million--2 million złoty, such methods
proved inadequate. Rudnicka resorted then to the stratagem
learnt, in part, from female smugglers: Bogna Domańska,
an employee of DR's Jewish Department, in her flat wrapped
the money round Rudnicka, and then bandaged her tightly.
An ample dress or coat blurred Ms Rudnicka's loss of
shape. Although the money and bandages restricted her
movement, still she was able to carry the whole sum
at one stroke, avoiding additional, dangerous walks
across the town.
Persons carrying larger sums
of money were secured by one or two associates. Wanda
Muszyńska, the often quoted here liaison officer of
the DR's Jewish Department, frequently did the "security
job." On such occasions, she walked in front and,
if she noticed anything alarming, she "clutched
at a sock."
Despite very strict security
measures, in spring 1944, the wrapped in dollars Rudnicka
and the securing her Feiner got caught in a German round-up.
The presence of mind saved them. They jumped on a rickshaw
and told its driver to pedal straight onto the Germans
lining the street. They pretended being drunk, laughed
loud, shouting something in German (they both knew the
language well) and waving at the uniformed guards. The
confused Germans stepped aside letting them go by.
During the entire period of the
RPŻ's operations, not one transport of the money allocated
to it got lost. Besides good organization, Żegota workers
had a proverbial bit of luck.
The money delivered to the Council
meeting was divided among members, taking the earlier
established needs into consideration. A part of the
subsidy was meant to pay the necessary administration
costs and those of the activities managed centrally.
Below is the example of the Council's expenditures in
the fourth quarter of 1943, illustrating the proportions
of sums assigned to particular kinds of relief:
1. administration and premises 29,700 złoty= 0.75%
of overall budget
2. legalization 134,500 złoty= 3.45% of overall budget
3. kindergarten (Children's Dep) 238,000 złoty= 6.00%
of overall budget
4. medical assist. 10,000 złoty= 0.25% of overall budget
5. grants to the provinces 767,744 złoty=19.25% of overall
6. grants to Warsaw 2,800,022 złoty=70.00% of overall
7. losses 11,500 złoty= 0.30% of overall budget
total: 3,991,466 złoty
The shortcoming of the RPŻ's
management was the absence of any reserves. Once it
distributed the money it had acquired, the Council usually
remained penniless. Although at Council meetings, it
was often submitted that an emergency fund should be
established, the Council never managed to save enough
money for the purpose as the needs always exceeded the
To begin with, all the hiding
Jews--both those asking for an allowance personally
and those registered, sometimes even without their knowledge,
by strangers--could be placed on the list of charges
only after the appropriate section of the RPŻ had made
a detailed inquiry about them. The RPŻ had gathered
information on them, explored their way of living, verified
whether their material situation was really so bad that
they needed help.
Under the German occupation to
carry out such inquiries usually cost a great deal of
trouble whereas it not always could bring to light all
the circumstances speaking for or against granting aid
to someone. However, there was no other way to do it.
Meanwhile information thus gathered often allowed for
a proper selection of new charges.
In the "Felicja" section
for example, as an outcome of such selection, more than
one third of allowance-seekers were rejected. In reports
he submitted to the Council Presidium, Grudziński mentioned
results of the interviews and talks with those interested:
the Pruders gave up, the Ettingers and the Frejmans
drew allowance from another section. To some people
recommended by friends or associates the section did
not propose anything because they managed somehow on
their own. Dr. Mateusz (or actually Matys) Berłowicz
was among the latter. Although his and his family's
names are on "Felicja's" list (see Annex,
record 31, entries 336--338), there are no payments
to them noted down. Already after the war, in 1976,
Dr. Berłowicz admitted that the interviewers had been
right: he had had reserves from before the war, he had
been living with the family of the pre-war Polish policeman-friend,
Wacław Nowiński, and had not even heard either about
the Council's or "Felicja's" existence. Had
an RPŻ's representative offered him any financial assistance,
he would have refused it, knowing that there were people
in a situation more difficult than his.
Interviews were the first sieve
to sift out some of the potential relief beneficiaries.
The approval by the Council (or rather its Audit Commission)
of new charges and of the amount of aid to be provided
to them was the second sieve. The latter limited the
discretion of local activists of the leading parties
forming the Council and of the heads of the sections
subsidized in virtue of so-called "wild lists"
[submitted and maintained independently from organisations
forming RPŻ]. Herling-Grudziński found those regulations
too strict and tried to modify them:
"I reiterate the reservations
I voiced in my previous statement," he wrote to
the Council in February 1944. "A number of cases
require an individual treatment and an increase in the
average allowance [...] I will report on these cases
separately, as I have already mentioned, and will gain
your approval of the rise or you will assign a certain
extra sum, not mentioned on the list, and entitle me
to decide how to dispose of it. Needless to say, on
the payroll, these rises will be indicated together
with a short explanation of their reasons."
Yet, the Council did not give
"Felicja" so much discretion, which--we may
guess--provoked the vigorous head of the section, very
much taken up with his duties, to adopt special tactics
in the more prosperous months, for example in May. In
that month the number of increased allowances did not
grow much. It was however the month when very many back
payments, for April and even March, were made. This
way particular persons received 1,000 złoty or even
1,500 złoty. This was nevertheless only a partial solution
as there was no way how to pay anything retroactively
to those who had got their reliefs regularly, month
Grudziński notified the Council
of new charges every month, sending the lists of their
names together with his statements through "Ewa"
(Janina Raabe-Wąsowicz). The lists gave the people's
real names which the charges no longer used. In the
case of those few who continued to live under their
real names, Grudziński omitted them, stating that in
the oral statement he would make good the omission.
Until the new people were accepted
by the Council Presidium, Grudziński had treated them
as admitted "conditionally," with no right
to relief. This notwithstanding, when he deemed it urgent
or when the Council did not respond promptly, he himself
decided on allowances, which sometimes were big (e.g.
those paid to Krysia, entry 2 in "Felicja's"
statement concerning January and February 1944).
When distributing the subsidies obtained from the
Government Representation in a given month, the Council
took into consideration the number of particular sections'
approved charges. The allocated sums were collected
by section heads or female liaisons who delivered the
money to representatives of the "wild lists"
or associations cooperating with the Council. From them,
sometimes directly and sometimes through two--three
intermediaries, the money went to addressees. The latter
wrote a receipt which was possibly small and inconspicuous,
and where, for the sake of secrecy, the respective dates
were ten years back-dated while sums were divided by
one hundred (thus they amounted to 4, 5 or 10 złoty),
although sometimes people put down the correct dates
and sums automatically. Recipients signed their receipts
in different ways, conventionally, usually with their
first names alone or, more or less illegibly, with the
family names they were not using at the moment.
Section heads used those receipts
to prepare statements which helped them settle accounts
with the Council Presidium, and which they submitted
to the RPŻ's Audit Commission.
From time to time, the rules
how to settle accounts were amended to make these rules
less rigorous. And thus, in the entire 1943, the Audit
Commission required that all sections should submit
their financial statements together with receipts. "Upon
inspection, the Audit Commission destroys the receipts
and accepts the detailed report by putting the Commission
members' names below its text," Arczyński, the
Council's treasurer, advised Henryk Woliński, head of
an "AK cell," in December 1943 (cf. Annex,
record 23). The accepted report was sent back to the
organization concerned, as a document "for the
At the beginning of 1944 however,
at the request of the Audit Commission, the Council
changed the system of auditing. Once he closed and signed
the list of recipients, the head of the section was
supposed to destroy the receipts. The Commission was
to audit only the lists prepared in that way.
Changed were also other elements
of the Council's finance, for example the frequency
of the Audit Commission inspections. Inasmuch as in
the already mentioned December 1943 letter to Woliński,
Arczyński wrote about monthly statements, in May 1944
he instructed Grudziński to prepare a statement "for
the past months," i.e. in that particular case
for the past six months (cf. Annex, record 29).
At several meetings the Council
discussed whether to instruct sections to ask their
charges "this once" to sign the receipts with
their "actual" names, meaning the names they
were currently using. That would allow the Council to
ascertain whether no-one was taking money from several
sections at the same time. Still, even though the Council
were very keen to prevent fraud, at the last moment
they flinched from such a risky directive.
All the relevant indecisions
and changes in the principles of book-keeping resulted
from the Council's dilemma whether to establish an efficient
auditing system, which required all sections to turn
up accurate records, or to ensure maximum security to
the charges through, among other things, covering up
any traces of their existence, including the evidence
of any organized aid provided to them.
As concerns "Felicja's" section, to the
end did Herling-Grudziński keep to the strictest rules.
His section received from 40,000 złoty to 150,000 złoty,
which usually wasn't enough for all people entitled
to relief aid. The ultimate decision rested with Grudziński.
Maybe he acted in consultation with the heads of groups,
at least of the bigger ones. Everyone of them drew the
sum allotted to his charges. He accounted for that money
later, by producing their receipts.
After all is said and done, it
is too much to call these crumpled up scraps of paper,
more often than not with the writing blurred, "receipts."
They evidently were passed on from one person to another.
The mere first names put on the receipts often recur.
If not the index number Grudziński later gave them,
it would be impossible to establish which Jerzy, Pinkus,
Estera or Anna signed them.
On the basis of such "vouchers"
like these it was difficult to write monthly or periodical
accounts. And still, just these receipts, with first
names only as signatures and concerning just one month,
presumably caused the least inconvenience of all. Herling-Grudziński's
archives contain plenty of, easier to transport, joint
receipts: one scrap of paper, a few centimetres long,
acknowledges the receipt of an allowance for a family
of five or for three--four people of different names
who for one reason or another drew it together in a
given month, and whose index numbers do not always adjoin.
There are also receipts there which concern two--three
months allowances. In such situation, wasn't it easy
to overlook, say, an April payment the receipt of which
was enclosed with the May files?
Grudziński, like the other section
heads, had to give many hours of his time in order to
sort through this muddle of information and to produce
a fair, convincing and true picture of the situation.
To make things worse, he did not get those scanty receipts
on delivery. From various notes in "Felicja's"
files it results that group heads brought receipts in
batches, that sometimes it took him weeks to get all
the receipts from them. When all is said and done, the
group heads met obstacles, too: they not always reached
their charges in person, they might, for security reasons,
reduce their contacts with them to the minimum. In those
circumstances, even a slight misunderstanding, being
a few minutes late to a meeting, anyone's illness, even
if brief, could create difficulties. Was everyone of
the group heads sure at the time that to file a 500
złoty receipt was worth the imminent risk? Didn't many
of them treat that as a needless formality?
That was however what Grudziński
was obliged to do. Besides, he wanted to collect receipts
not just to assess the performance of the network he
had set up, not just to settle accounts with the Council
satisfactorily, but also to provide evidence in the
postwar future. He wanted to be always able to prove
that he took money not for himself but for the others.
That was why, according to his family, with great care
he buried the receipts under the cellar of his house
in the Boernerowo (the present Bemowo) suburb where
they survived the last part of the war.
Together with the receipts Grudziński
buried the already mentioned statement which included
the first and family names of 494 people, and the precise
sums of monthly allowances paid in the period between
December 1943 and May 1944 (Annex, record 31, see also
illustration 47). The statement was attested by the
RPŻ's Audit Commission, i.e. by Tadeusz Rek and Leon
Feiner, on 14 June 1944.
The RPŻ chairman, "Trojan,"
too, adhered to the Council rules of keeping and working
on files. He collected receipts and kept a detailed
record of payments. Halina Grobelna remembers the audits
carried out by two authorized Council members (of whom
she knew only Feiner). "After the audit, receipts
went to the archives in comrade Władysław Lizuraj's
Boernerowo place. When we met after the war, I asked
him about our archives. He told me that before the rising
he had buried all the records in his cellar. Then, Germans
deported him. When he returned, he couldn't find the
records because the house had been destroyed."
Apparently, RPŻ activists found
the out-of-the-way Bemowo to be relatively safe. It
is a pity that this time hopes failed and that the files
of the Council's largest section, run by the PPS-WRN,
got lost. It is an irretrievable loss from the point
of view of the history of the Council and the whole
campaign of relief for Jews.
This loss is all the greater
that in all likelihood those archives contained also
the children's department's financial records: receipts
signed by the children themselves or their foster-parents,
and the lists of all those little children and teenagers
for whom the Council provided. Mrs. Irena Sendler was
the one to draw their allowances from Grobelny and to
him she accounted for that money.
The financial rules of the RPŻ's Jewish sections were
different. Helena Merenholc, who closely cooperated
with the Bermans, and especially with Mrs. "Basia"
Temkin-Berman, and who headed a big relief group of
the ŻKN, says that their charges acknowledged the receipt
of money only in the initial period. As early as in
summer or autumn 1943, the ŻKN relinquished the receipts,
finding carrying and compiling them dangerous. Group
heads confined themselves to supplying lists of payments.
But in time, even this was abandoned.
With respect to Merenholc herself,
the tragic night she passed through at the end of 1943
or at the beginning of 1944 was decisive. She was using
"Aryan" papers and hiring a room in the house
in 58, 6th August St. The local caretaker, his son and
daughter-in-law were guilty of the death of many Jews.
Pani Helena herself informed the relevant sections of
the Government representation against them. Her information
must have been confirmed by other sources as after some
time punishment was meted out: all three of them were
shot. Only a few hours later Gestapo conducted an exhaustive
search of the premises. Merenholc kept plenty of incriminating
records in her place: in the specially hollowed cactus
shelf--Kennkarten ready to use, and questionnaires and
pictures for new ones, and in a drawer--lists of several
hundred names of people to whom allowances were paid!
When she heard battering at the door, horror-stricken
she hid quickly all the documents under her dress and
went to open the door, hoping that the Germans would
not search the person to do it. She proved to be right.
Although two blows to the head muddled her so powerfully
that she fell on the floor, but when she recovered her
senses, the Germans were already in the rooms of the
flat. They ransacked the place, however not as sweepingly
as they usually did it as this time they were interested
primarily in men. They dragged several out of neighbouring
flats and took them away.
The shock she experienced and
also the probability of disaster of just incalculable
consequences were both so great that Merenholc refused
Berman point-blank to make or to keep records any more.
Even though they mentioned only the "prewar"
names, no longer used, she was not sure whether she
would stand a possible interrogation by Gestapo and
would not reveal the current names. The lists meant
a death sentence to herself, too.
From that day she memorized everything,
both names and addresses. Her method became a standard
rule, accepted by neighbouring sections. They tried
to prevent "double takes" by direct talks
with other group heads. Ms Merenholc examined the details
of the lists of charges she memorized with either Mrs.
"Basia" Berman or Mrs. Klementyna Krymek.
She carefully watched the work of liaison officers,
which let her observe one young "deliveryman"
draw money for the people who were already dead. Although
there could be more people like him, in Merenholc's
circle the prevalent opinion was that to tolerate them
was a lesser evil than to magnify the danger to both
the guardians as well as the charges.
However, not all ŻKN groups worked
that way. In her diary from the end of the occupation,
Mrs. "Basia" Berman mentions, among other
things, "temporary receipts signed by the guardians,
next replaced by authentic receipts," which indicates
a procedure identical to that adopted by the Herling-Grudziński
section. This is confirmed by Sylwia Rzeczycka who writes,
"Mrs. Berman handed a large sum of money together
with the old and new names of Jews plus their addresses
to me. I carried money to them and, following the instructions,
demanded receipts signed with their real (Jewish) names.
Then, I delivered the receipts back to Mrs. Berman."
Zofia Rudnicka, too, remembers
it very well that both Berman and Feiner settled accounts
with the Council Presidium just like any other section
head did, i.e. by producing the payment sheet. She never
heard that the Audit Commission might excuse them, for
example, from showing receipts at the time when the
others were expected to do so.
This means that the ŻKN either
adhered to the strict rules when distributing the Council
subsidies and was less rigorous when deploying its own
resources or it excused from record keeping groups particularly
reliable or those operating in especially difficult
The situation in Bund was probably
more or less the same. However, not one Bund leadership
member capable of telling us about their style of work
at the time is living in Poland. The book by Vladka
Meed, Feiner's liaison, oft-mentioned here, provides
no information on this subject.
Still, only representatives of
the Jewish community for whom the money was meant, could
afford a more lenient money management. Polish organizations
had to obey the utmost rigour, they had to see to it
that allowances should reach their Jewish addressees
and that these should be absolutely--considering the
occupation circumstances--sure that they got as much
money as was allotted to them, and that no-one went
shares in that allotment with them. This does not mean,
of course, that all sections were as meticulous in record
keeping as Herling-Grudziński. Perhaps the style of
work of certain groups was, by various reasons, closer
to the ways of the ŻKN groups described here. Those
however were exceptional cases. Both from the Council's
materials preserved and from the memories of its Warsaw
activists it results that, as a rule, they were very
rigorously following the RPŻ instructions regarding
"Getting receipts clearly
was in my own interest," observed Mrs. Irena Sendler
years later. "Large sums of money passed through
my hands. I felt relief when I could prove that it went
to those people for whom it was meant."
It is worth adding here that
no RPŻ section got itself into trouble because of record
Summing up, it was only in the initial period when
section workers submitted reports and receipts to the
Audit Commission. Later, the Commission was given reports
alone. Didn't it reduce the reliability of accounts
considerably? After all, couldn't receipts act as evidence,
even if not quite regular?
It seems that they were of primary
importance first and foremost to the section head. It
is only to him that those small scraps of paper could
"tell" anything: even the signatories' handwriting,
every month the same, the arrangement of first names
intelligible only to him, or some other details insignificant
to anybody else were "telling" to him. Through
the receipts, every month he had contact with the same
people; some of them he knew personally, the others
he knew by name or from questionnaires. If anything
aroused his suspicions, he was able--if only sporadically
and on a small scale--to organize an extra inspection,
closer monitoring or a new questionnaire.
The Audit Commission, supposed
to receive thousands of receipts, could not possibly
test the authenticity of the signatures. In order not
to adhere to the fiction, the section heads were saddled
with the recognition of receipts. It was the section
heads whose signatures warranted for the data they put
into their reports precisely on the basis of those receipts.
Strong sense of responsibility and innate honesty were
presumed to be their main characteristics.
In this regard, in all RPŻ sections,
the issue of confidence played a major role, only--this
is important--at a different level and to a considerably
smaller extent. In the ŻKN, and perhaps also in Bund,
everything relied on a blind confidence in everyone:
in the charges (that they did not collect money from
several sources) as well as in the group heads and liaison
officers (that they would distribute money as required).
RPŻ sections showed such confidence only in their heads,
i.e. the well-tested social workers, appreciated in
their circles who delegated them to this kind of work.
It turned out after all that
two of them, Grobelny and Herling-Grudziński themselves
(we do not know about the others) did not want to take
advantage of such blind confidence. They tried to preserve
both reports and receipts. Owing to the fact that at
least one of them succeeded, it was possible to randomly
do in the 1970s what the Audit Commission was unable
to do under the occupation: to test the authenticity
of at least some of the signatures.
Not all of Herling-Grudziński's
charges survived the war, some of them scattered in
the world, others remained in Poland but under their
new names which made establishing any contact with them
impossible. However, all those we managed to reach have
unhesitatingly confirmed the authenticity of their signatures,
affixed to the receipts from the 1940s. Suffice to compare
the present signatures with those appearing on the receipts,
to see that, despite changes due to the lapse of time,
the handwriting is the same (cf. illust. 46).
About twenty entries in Herling-Grudziński's
report were authenticated this way. There is no doubt
that had the Audit Commission been able to currently
validate documents in a similar fashion, it would have
obtained positive results, and not just in the "Felicja"
section alone. If however the Commission was unable
to test the accuracy of the data produced by reports,
what did its audit consist of?
From various references in the
records preserved one can infer that the Commission
was interested primarily in the amount of the allowances
paid, especially those bigger than the average, and
in the circumstances of the newly-accepted charges,
checking--if possible--whether the latter did not collect
money from other sections. The Commission, moreover,
studied in detail the lists of allowances granted. On
that occasion they could realize how much pushed for
money particular relief teams were, which could have
been of importance when granting new subsidies. Among
the aims of the Commission's activities was also the
uniformity of the finance policies carried out by particular
sections of the Council.
The RPŻ made much of the Audit
Commission's inspections. The Commission met more than
twice a month. The Council's two deputy chairmen "Sławiński"--Rek
and "Mikołaj" "Lasocki"--Feiner,
lawyers and political activists of long experience,
who themselves were heads of large RPŻ sections, served
on the Commission.
Edelman met Feiner in a Lublin
clinic at the beginning of 1945. Years later Edelman
told Hanna Krall:
"Do you know what I remember
best from that period?
"The death of Mikołaj. The
one who sat on 'Żegota' (the Relief Council for Jews)
as a representative of our underground.
"Mikołaj was in bed and
"He died, do you understand
it? Simply, in hospital, in bed! The first man I knew
who died without being killed. I visited him in hospital
a day earlier, and he told me, 'Mr. Marek, if anything
happened to me, here, under the pillow, I've got a copybook
where everything is accounted for, to the last penny.
They can ask about it, so remember that our books are
balanced. We are even landed with some surplus money.'
"Do you know what it was?
"It was such a fat copybook
with a black cover in which, throughout the war he was
recording what we were spending dollars on. Those that
were airlifted for us to buy weapons. There was still
several dozen dollars left, and those too were noted
down in that copybook."
During the occupation Feiner
as a representative of the Bund leadership received
airlift money not only to buy weapons but, with time,
particularly since the spring of 1943, first and foremost
to bring relief to the Jews in hiding. Additionally,
which is generally known, he distributed RPŻ money;
after the Warsaw Uprising, RPŻ money was probably the
only money he could distribute. The fat copybook with
a black cover could also describe the settlement of
Dying of cancer in a Lublin hospital,
away from Nazi control and Nazi laws, the last RPŻ chairman
thought about the definitive accounting for the public
funds entrusted to him.
translated by Maria Chmielewska-Szlajferowa
The Third Reich's Nazi cold-blood, organized, savage
mass murder of the Jewish population in all countries
of conquered Europe, was the most tragic chapter of
the history of World War II. About 6 million people
were dragged from home and their quiet existence, humiliated
and terrorized, denied the possibility to work and earn
a living, starved in camps and ghettos, carried from
a country to a country and from one place to another
in conditions beyond human endurance, only to be driven
to gas chambers in order "to solve the Jewish question
Before the war, the concentration
of Jews in Poland was Europe's most intense, and thus
nearly a half (about 2.9 million) of those exterminated
were Polish Jews. How many were saved? About 350,000
managed to survive (usually as deportees) in the Soviet
Union. In the home-country, with or without the help
of Poles (in partisan units, in labour camps, etc.)
- between 80,000 and 120,000. The number of people who
were hiding themselves in Warsaw, on account of their
descent, at the time of the 1944 uprising, is estimated
at about 20,000.
How small are these numbers compared
to the number of the exterminated! Here, in Poland,
survived every thirtieth Jew, at best. Including those
who returned from the Soviet Union - every eighth. All
together, 12 per cent of Polish Jewry were saved. In
other European countries, the proportion of the saved
Jews was different, amounting to 16 per cent - 25 per
cent in Lithuania, Latvia, Yugoslavia and Greece, to
25 per cent - 50 per cent in the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia
and Hungary, to 50 per cent - 60 per cent in Belgium
and Rumania, to 78 per cent in France, to nearly 100
per cent in Bulgaria.
The possibility of saving them
depended on many factors, the most significant ones
- the geographic position (a possibility to escape
and to reach a safe place),
- the prewar number of Jews and the degree of their
integration into the local population,
- anti-Semitism (including the one before the war)
of the local population,
- the attitude of Germans towards the citizens of
a given country: the degree of economic oppression,
police surveillance and its intensity, political terror,
- intensity of the policy of extermination of Jews,
- kinds of repressive measures against attempts to
Denmark was in the best position to save Jews.
Thanks to this position, she managed to save almost
all (7,200) of her Jews. The position of central
European countries, including Poland, was the least
advantageous in this respect as they were either
separated from the free world by hundreds of kilometres
of the German territory or were dependent on Germany.
The prewar numbers of Jews
were another factor determining the percentage of
people saved. The larger was the Jewish minority,
the bigger were its relative losses. The hiding
Jews had to mix with the "Aryan" population,
to disappear among them. The excessive density of
Jews inevitably attracted the attention of the occupation
authorities. In Belgium half of the 72,000 Jews
survived the war because they were mixed with the
nearly 8 million Belgian population. In Poland,
saving a half of the Jewish community, i.e. more
than 1.5 million people, was out of the question.
The anti-Semitism dating
back to prewar years was an additional element making
hiding and helping Jews difficult. Although no country
in Europe was free of anti-Semitism, all the same
in Poland - as was mentioned here several times
- it was rife. It hindered flights from ghettos,
it constituted a threat both to Jews and to those
ready to assist them. In the memory of survivors
it left traces that cannot be blotted out.
How Germans treated the population
of the conquered countries was of fundamental importance
to the relief action. The assumptions of Germany's
Jewish policy were everywhere the same: extermination.
But their attitude to the remaining groups of population
differed, which determined the fate of Jews directly
According to Bohdan Wytwycky,
an American historian of Ukrainian descent, the
war Hitler declared on Poland on 1 September 1939,
was not a regular war against another state and
its army, it was not a war like the one the Nazis
were to declare on France, Great Britain or the
United States. Hitler's declaration of war on Poland
was a declaration of war on the Polish people and
Polish national character. That fact exerted a tremendous
impact on the nature of the occupation in Poland,
It exerted an impact on the
possibility of assisting Jews, too. The population
deprived of any civic rights, pauperized, weighed
down by terror, uncertain of their own future, had
themselves to concentrate all their efforts in order
To Jews living in utter misery
in ghettos, the "Aryan" district seemed
to be the land of peace and prosperity. Likewise,
Poles, for example underground couriers, upon arrival
at Paris, had an impression that they found themselves
in a free world: theatres, cinemas, colleges were
open, newspapers and books were coming out, radio
programmes were broadcast... The strikingly less
conspicuous presence of the German army and police
made that impression even stronger. Historical studies
confirm the couriers' impression: about 150,000
police, SS and Waffen SS men were stationed in Poland
in 1944, against 12,000 men in France in 1943 (according
to other sources, there were no more than 3,000
men; if so, their total number had to be smaller).
From the fact that the population of France was
20 per cent and its territory 30 per cent larger,
it results that the surveillance of Polish society
was fifteen times as strict as on the Seine and
the Loire. Therefore the situation like, for instance,
at Chambon-sur-Lignon in southern France, famous
for her assistance to Jews, was plainly impossible
in Poland. In Chambon, with the population of 3,300,
as many as 2,500 Jews found a temporary shelter.
In Poland, a concentration of not hundreds but even
several tens of Jews in a village would immediately
attract attention of the ubiquitous German police.
The obstinacy of the Nazi
police in hunting up Jews depended in a large measure
on their total number in a given country. In Poland,
where this number was largest, it was the reason
why they were doggedly hunted at every turn. Germany
could desist from deporting Jews, for example, in
Finland, where there were just 2,000 of them, or
Norway, where there were only 1,700 Jewish residents,
but the vaster was the number of the Jewish population,
the more obstinately were they run after.
Poland was the only country
where to offer help to Jews was punishable by death.
It is beyond doubt that east of Polish territories
- in Lithuania, Byelarus, Ukraine and in the European
parts of the Soviet Union, where the occupation
regime was very cruel, too - the revealed cases
of assistance to Jews resulted in the death penalties.
Assisting Jews was treated as resistance to the
policy of Germany. Yet, no genuine figures are available.
In Western Europe crackdowns
so strong were not a rule. Nevertheless history
tells of the cases of people found guilty - usually
of a large-scale relief campaign - having been sent
to concentration camps from which, more often than
not, they did not return.
In Poland, such incidents
seemed almost nothing out of the ordinary. The activities
of Warsaw's central judicature contain evidence
of more than 700 executions of people assisting
Jews, and of those people's relatives. In fact there
must have been more executions as surely not all
of them were entered in the official court records.
Simon Wiesenthal mentions 621 Polish families to
have died for assisting Jews (maybe he means the
same people, at least in part). The largest group
murder took place in the village of Ciepielów near
Radom, where 33 inhabitants, including 19 children,
were burnt alive for trying to hide several Jews.
Had Chambon been in Poland,
the Germans who discovered a Jewish boarding-school
in that village would have immediately searched
the houses in the area, which they did not do in
Chambon. In Poland, Germans would have killed not
just the local pastor's cousin who organized the
aid campaign, but at least a greater part of the
village occupants as well as all the Jews in hiding.
Due to the overwhelming presence
of representatives of the German authorities and
the severity of the punishment they inflicted, the
terror of assisting Jews in Poland was enormous.
Beside anti-Semitism, that terror must have been
the main cause why the assistance actually offered
to Jews was sparse.
All the above-mentioned factors
affecting the Jews' possibility to save themselves
and the "Aryans'" possibility to aid them
acted to Poland's disadvantage. This is why to compare
the help offered in Poland to that in the West,
without consideration for local conditions, is utterly
Although the Relief Council
for Jews functioned in very difficult conditions,
it proved itself equal to the task. Needless to
say, it was not the only underground organization
in Europe to assist the Jewish population. Similar
organizations operated in France, Belgium and the
Netherlands. The Western organizations were however
different from the one in Poland. In the West, they
were usually run by Jews themselves (therefore they
were more like the ŻKN Jewish National Committee
or Bund in their composition), aided by representatives
of local "Aryan" population, in part by
the Catholic or Protestant Church and by certain
resistance units. They usually engaged in one sort
of activity, be it care for Jewish children, arranging
for the Jewish youth to illegally cross the border
(Joop Westerweel of the Netherlands set up the most
famous group of this kind), etc., or embarked on
relevant local campaigns. Nowhere however did the
political underground establish a relief organization
like the RPŻ, which would rally as wide a range
of alliances, cooperate with the central authorities,
drawing on funds allocated by these authorities
as well as the emigre government, and which would
be, despite arrests, engaged in so many different
activities for so long.
On the Memorial Hill in Jerusalem,
Yad Vashem the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance
Authority set up in 1962 the Avenue of the Righteous
Among Nations of the World. In this avenue people
who helped rescuing Jews in Europe plant trees.
As of 1 January 1997, among the 14,706 persons thus
distinguished, 4,954 were Poles who made the largest
national group of "planters."
All members of the Council
presidiums in Warsaw, Cracow and Lwów have their
trees on the Memorial Hill. The Relief Council for
Jews, Żegota, is one of the few organizations to
have its tree there. Żegota's tree has grown very
big by now.
translated by Maria Chmielewska-Szlajferowa
Heritage Foundation 2002-2003
(transferred by the Batory Foundation In Warsaw)